Saturday 30 October 2021

Dragon's Fury for the MegaDrive/Genesis

Also known as Devil's Crash/Devil's Crush if you happen to be from Japan, Dragon's Fury is what happens if the witches, ghoulies, and evil spirits can't be bothered with trick or treating and instead spend their Halloween inside a pinball table. As made-up premises go it's as good as any. Hailed as the greatest pinball game to have ventured onto consoles at the time, battling Satan and his demonic host, it turns out, requires an oversized ball bearing and flippers. No need for holy water and sacraments.

How to describe such a game? The main table is three screens high with a playfield for each, and each is inhabited by foul servants of the dark lord. The top finds a troupe of cowled acolytes circling a spinning pentagram (in the Japanese version, at least). The middle table, and the trickiest to keep the ball in for any length of time, is home to the eponymous Dragon. Flanked by cadres of Quarterback-costumed skeletons, the face of a sleeping woman becomes more serpentine every time the ball reposes in one of the adjacent pockets. Eventually her mouth opens and a bonus stage awaits. The bottom table is the gateway to death. There's a lot going on here. A skull that laughs every time a ball is lost, another dragon presiding over a clutch of eggs, wandering mini demons, cocoons ready to explode with swarms of flies, it can get very busy, and also manic as the ball zips about smashing our infernal enemies back to hell.

Spicing up the game are the six bonus stages. Their completion changes the ball's colour blue, signifying a time limited point multiplier. But each mini-game is interesting in itself. Yes, they are all variations on using the ball to destroy stuff, but they're not mindless joypad bashers. The many headed dragon, the bat-filled vases, and beady-eyed skulls, these three affairs shouldn't give the novice player or pinball initiate many problems. It gets a touch tougher with the sorcerers. Finish them off and a major demon appears who requires strategic hits to exorcise. Round five offers a grave yard scene with malevolent spirits. Destroy them to light up all the LEDs on the board - it's easier said than done. And lastly, bonus stage six sets up a major confrontation with a huge headed-demon and his fire breathing abomination in a organic-flavoured hadesscape, replete with soothing organ music. It's a battle and a half.

These stages serve more than point accumulating affairs. Completing all six are necessary to purge the table of its diabolical influences. The table explodes, the score maxes out and the ball is transported to the throne room of the Devil himself. He nonchalantly sits on his throne as a couple of minions try their efforts. Once they're done, it's down to the beast himself. A few hits and he reverts to a more authentically Goaty countenance. Destroy him and the forces of darkness are banished back to the pit. Hurrah!

Dragon's Fury doesn't sound much on paper, and indeed it isn't. And yet the game is endlessly compelling. Highly rated at the time, it's one of them that's easy to pick up but difficult to master. The ball's physics are more or less spot on, and the action is always frenetic. There are no penalties for trapping it with a flipper, allowing for pauses for thinking about angles and direction. The graphics are truly excellent and complement the game well, and the sound is nicely appropriate. The main table tune, a nice slice of goth heavy synth, is among the best and most technically accomplished to have issued from the Mega Drive's sound chip. As the game was ported by noted shoot 'em up specialists Technosoft, entering OmakeBGM on the password screen followed by 01 (up to 05) replaces the main tune with a top track from another of their games. A nice touch.

Unfortunately, the digital devilry on offer proved too much for the censorious marketing department at Tengen, who published the game in Europe and North America. They changed the name to something more innocuous and boring. And the Satanic motifs were played down. All the pentagrams became five-pointed stars, and anything smacking of religious iconography was banished. For example, in the original the vase-smashing bonus stage originally featured coffins. A bit lame, but we can't risk upsetting the mid-west fundamentalists. Which is odd, considering the entirety of the game is about destroying demons and putting the boot into Beelzebub. Perhaps if the engine of their destruction was called the Christ ball it might have worked out.

Overall, Dragon's Fury fits perfectly on the Mega Drive. It's a pinball tour de force guaranteed to shake free the cobwebs and get the reflexes moving in no time. A perfect, if oft-overlooked tonic for Halloween video gaming.

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1 comment:

Tasker Dunham said...

Much too sophisticated for me. I'll put together a post about how I waste my time.